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Explainer: How Body-Worn Cameras used by police in the USA

In the past year, more and more U.S. law enforcement departments have turned to body-worn cameras, which are often used in police shootings. They may not disappear, however, when the video is publicly shared.


The conflict between the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, who was Black, and police reports of the incident were what pushed Obama to fund 32 state-wide body-worn camera systems for cops.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2018, almost 47% of general-purpose law enforcement agencies in the United States have purchased body-worn cameras.

Police body-worn cameras, explained - Vox

Bigger agencies were more inclined to implement the technological features. Other notable exceptions include the Portland Police Department, which halted the implementation of a pilot program for body-worn cameras in 2020 due to “huge budget constraints.”

The same legislatures have imposed national BWC implementation on seven states — Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Jersey, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Many states have different rules on body-worn cameras for open records. According to the Urban Institute, because at least 12 states, including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and West Virginia, did not have laws in place by October 2018, it was up to officials to decide which videos to post.

While many states currently limit access to body-worn camera footage, North Carolina has one of the most stringent regulations. This new legislation provides that recordings would be available to the public within 21 days of a claim of abuse, except in situations where doing so would violate the person’s privacy or disrupt an investigation.


As of October 2018, the study found that more than half of the United States didn’t have any rules governing when, where, or how, body cameras could be used. At that time, some states instituted new rules.

Explainer: How police body-worn cameras are used in the United States |  Reuters

Such legislation has also been enacted in Colorado, New Mexico, New Mexico, and New York, though the latter only applies to state police.Except in exceptional circumstances, the statutes mandate law enforcement officers to report all contacts with the public, even those that include civilians.

According to a 2015 study co-which he co-authored by Daniel Lawrence, an urban-institute policing specialist, the percentage of body-worn cameras that were activated in Anaheim ranged from zero to approximately 72 percent.


The makers of audio and video recordings are commonly involved in police shootings, including the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Prosecutors displayed a video of Chauvin’s testimony to the jury on April 20.

Body-Worn Cameras | Electronic Frontier Foundation

In 2016, the George Mason University Center for Evidence-Based Policy Research concluded that two-thirds of all state prosecutors’ offices use body-worn cameras. A survey showed that in jurisdictions that use body cameras, 8.3% of the footage was used to convict police, while a very high percentage of the footage was used to convict the general public.


According to the National Police Foundation, which has reviewed 10 years of studies on the issue, those who wear body cameras, body-worn cameras worn by officers register fewer grievances than those that do not wear them.

However, in 2017, researchers in Washington, D.C. concluded that no impact could be identified.

Privacy groups urge the expeditious release of body-worn camera video, arguing that it is essential to give the public confidence in the legitimacy of police procedures. Most officers welcome the accountability, believing that recordings will assist in charging officers for racial or abusive behaviour, although others see them as a liability because they don’t provide a complete picture of police conduct.

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